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Breathe

posted by awelborn

Here’s something I’ve been chewing on all week.

Last Sunday, we attended a Mass in which the music was provided by a youth group, God bless them. Except they were not so great. Please take drum kits out of churches. It just doesn’t work. Especially when the drummer is twelve.

The greying leader of the group was perhaps a veteran of the Charismatic movement, for the Communion hymn emerged from those years..Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord…and he…will lift you up…higher and higher..etc. Which was okay. Except for the drums.

No, the song that irked was that which was sung at the Offertory, I believe. I sat there listening to it, feeling kind of creeped out by it,  then went home and Googled it, and discovered it’s one of the most popular praise songs out there, having won awards and such. The story behind its composition is tragic, making me feel even more churlish for reacting against it. Perhaps you’ve heard of it or sung it – it’s called Breathe:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for you
And I, I’m lost without you

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

I’m not intending for this to be one of the innumerable full-blown posts on Liturgical Music Today (by the way, there is a very good and civil discussion of liturgical music in this post at NLM, the subject of which is some recent hints that some Catholic composers in the popular mode are attempting to reposition themselves and their work. A comment thread that then raises good questions about the power of Catholic liturgical music publishers. Anyway.) ….but more on this particular song. I thought it was terrible, and I felt uncomfortable even thinking about singing it..it was..invasive. It was putting words in my mouth and heart.

But…isn’t that what happens when we pray and sing aloud like this? Aren’t we allowing others’ words to speak for us? Isn’t that the point of liturgical prayer, to join our prayers to the broader prayer of the Church and speak as one? Yah, but this was different, and I am having a devil of a time trying to figure out why. Others have written on this sensibility in contemporary praise music – some even focusing on this particular song.

S.M. Hutchens wrote a piece in Touchstone a couple of years ago about the roots of "Romantic Worship" which then inspired a Get Religion post and another, in which "Breathe" is cited in one of the comments:

The chorus of this pop song — in which the contraction “I’m” is held for about five seconds followed by the words “desperate for you” — is already a classic of the new erotic-worship genre.

(These posts are from 2004, but I don’t know how "new" it was – back in the late 70’s, Amy Grant was being criticized for recording songs that could, in the opinion of some, double as secular love songs with a few pronoun changes here and there.)

But then Mark Byron argued back:

Let’s look at Breathe, with its chorus of "I’m lost without you…I’m desperate for you." It only sounds erotic for we don’t have a vocabulary for a deep devotional love for God.

We could use a quick review of the three Greek words for love;

(1) philios, "brotherly love," which gives us the root for philanthropy and Philadelphia
(2) eros, "sexual love/lust," which we get erotic and erogenous from
(3) agape, "unconditional love" which doesn’t translate into English well and has no spin-offs that I know of.

We’re supposed to agape God, but that’s something that we’re only able to do with the help of the Holy Spirit. John 21:15-19 has Jesus ask Peter twice "do you agape me?" and gets Peter answering back "Yes, Lord, you know that I philios you." The third time, Jesus asks "do you philios me?" prompting the desired "Lord, you know all things; you know that I agape you."

Given that we don’t have a good word for agape, other than using it as-is within the theological cognoscenti, we’re at a loss to describe it well. To the casual Christian, such sold-out devotion to God seems erotic, since their love of God is more of a lukewarm philios. Given the lack of good agapesque adjectives, we’ll sometimes slip in the erotic adjectives instead.

To put this in a less sexual mode, Psalm 41:1(NIV) comes to mind-

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

We’re supposed to desire God and not in a casual way. That’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, especially if there more in philios mode with God. A lack of agape that makes people uncomfortable with such lyrics; if you’re walk isn’t that devout, you may want to excuse a lack of devotion by saying that the song sounds too sexy.
There’s more – go read.

Now, we’re not ignoramouses (mice?) around here – we know our Erotic Dimensions of Mysticism and we’ve pondered the Psalms Mark cites. But still…something about Breathe didn’t sit right with me at all in a liturgical setting. And it goes beyond my usual devout wish that everyone would just stop flinging "songs" of wildly different styles into blank spaces during Mass and just start chanting again. I suppose it all comes down to this: confronted with these lyrics, I felt put upon and forced into a mode of expression that I wouldn’t if we were all going to recite Psalm 41.

Why?

Is "Breathe" in the tradition of the Song of Solomon, the Psalms and this?

Or is it something else?

That’s what I can’t figure out.


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Keith Strohm

posted July 9, 2006 at 11:42 pm


Amy,
It’s an interesting point–though I personally I love “Breathe,” and I’ve sung it both in Liturgical setting (as a communion meditation) and in an Adoration Setting. The lyrivs don’t seem anymore forced to me then whan we sing “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee…” Though Breathe does somehow seem more personal…



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midwestmom

posted July 9, 2006 at 11:49 pm


I first heard “Breathe” at a Steubenville summer youth conference and fell in love with the song. The youth in our group did, too. It was used both as a Communion meditation and during Adoration.



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Shaun G

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:02 am


Do you suppose it’s entirely the lyrics that you’re reacting to, Amy? If you’d never heard the music, but only read the lyrics, do you think you would have had the same reaction? Can you think of some type of music (or heck, even chant) that these lyrics could be set to that would make you feel more comfortable?
Personally, I don’t find the lyrics all that whoop-de-doo, but I wouldn’t say that they seem inappropriate for a liturgical setting, provided that they were set to the right kind of music.
Speaking of the “erotic-worship genre,” my favorite band in the whole world, Switchfoot, has a marvelous song from their first album called “You,” which might be called “romantic worship.” Some people thing the “You” is God; others think the song was written about a girl. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable singing it at Mass, but it’s an amazing song nonetheless!



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amywelborn

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:05 am


Thanks for the clarification Shaun. Yes, it’s not just the lyrics. It’s the sort of moaning tune that accompanies it.



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diane

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:19 am


Gosh. I guess I’m sheltered from this stuff down here in the South.
I’ve never heard “Breathe.” Maybe the “moaning tune” would bother me, too. But the lyrics don’t. After all, there’s the Song of Songs. Not to mention the poetry of St. John of the Cross. I dunno. Personally, I can relate to the idea of yearning for God. “As the hart pants for cooling streams,” and all that. :)



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JimC

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:34 am


I think the problem is sentimentality — excessive emotional affectation. Some songs seek to create an emotional experience. At one time the emotion may have been a genuine response to an experience of God or of a genuine spiritual expression to God. Later one tries to evoke the emotion in hopes of again experiencing God but one may only experience the emotion. One may share that experience in a song which can effectively evoke the emotion in the singer. The song may be a vehicle for the singer to express prayer or praise or longing for God. Or the song may only be a way for the singer to evoke the feeling. I’ve seen two common results of the dynamic:
1) For some the song becomes an effective vehicle to express prayer and praise of God. For them the song is wonderful and deepens prayer. For others the song seems like an effort to manipulate their emotions to a state which they don’t experience as prayer but as feelings masquerading as prayer. I think some of the variation in response is cultural since music is a cultural expression. I have seen some weep listening to opera. I admire the skill but am unmoved.
2) Even when worship choruses are being effectively used for genuine prayer and reinforce genuine spiritual response to God it is easy to slip into the emotional bath they create and lose sight of God. Great worship songs are no more magic than the sacraments. If not approached with recollection and intention one came “come to” at the end and realize one was just going through the (e)motions.
No music, no matter how great or how holy the composer can substitute for the Holy Spirit. That’s why every hour of the Liturgy of the Hours begins, “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.” Even the Psalms, whether recited or sung, profit us little if we do not first beg God for the grace to pray in the Spirit.



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Br. Francis de Sales, OP

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:43 am


Amy, I don’t recall hearing “Breathe” (though I probably have heard it), but I agree with your sentiment here. It’s something I have thought about a fair amount since going to school at Steubenville (graduated 2001). I’m not charismatic myself, but I have great respect and appreciation for the positive aspects of the movement.
But on the topic of why music that is espescially passionate in an intimate sort of way seems somehow wrong in a specifically liturgical setting, here are a few thoughts . . .
In liturgical worship, most especially the Mass, we are entering into and participating in the worship of the whole Church. The immediately evident sign of this reality is our unity with the particular persons who are present together at that particular Mass. Our spiritual unity as worshippers should be as real and as thorough as possible at this special time.
What bothers me about the sort of music you describe being used at Mass is that it does not leave me free to be as totally authentic and transparent to God in my heart with my own real emotions as I have them at that time as I can be. This kind of music strongly dictates a very particular emotion. Its very sound and style demands of every person present, “feel this way–right now–a whole lot.” But the problem is, what if I don’t happen to truly feel this very particular emotion at this exact time at this particular Mass? It seems I must either give in to the emotional power of the music to draw me artificially into an interior stance that I don’t really have at that moment, or, I must remain authentic to where I am at that moment, and thereby separate myself interiorly from everyone around me who is letting the song take over their hearts.
For me it’s a matter of wanting to have the inner spiritual freedom to be authentic in my own heart as I worship God at Mass, and yet wanting to do so in a way that also permits me to be genuinely united with my brothers and sisters who are gathered there with me. Spiritual authenticy and unity. How to have both?
Even if I were personally feeling at a particular Mass especially warm and passionate feelings, matching the syrupy music, it still seems innappropriate to intentionally plunge into these sorts of feelings in a communal way specifically at Mass. What about those who can’t join me in these feelings at that moment? And perhaps more relevant, is there an analogy here to public displays of affection? If a married couple are feeling especially passionate toward each other in a public place, is it appropriate for them to indulge in a prolonged, extended, passionate kiss in full view of everyone? It’s not that the kiss is wrong at all–but aren’t some types of intimate expression between people simply best kept private by their nature?
I heard a priest recently say (responding to a question about “PDA”s with a group of teens at a youth conference) that if he is praying alone in the church and he feels like placing a kiss on the tabernacle with his hand, he will go up and do so. But if there are others present, he would not do so. It is just simply the sort of thing that should be done in private, because of its deeply personal and intimate nature. (note: he was not condoning private PDA’s for dating teens either).
One of the reasons I find chant to be the best form of music for liturgical worship is that it wonderfully allows for the gathered worshippers to be interiorly free to express whatever emotion they authentically have at that time–to be real before God. Because chant does not force very particular emotions upon the congregants (“feel joy now!”)–yet it still has a mysterious spiritual power. It creates a space for the heart to converse with God, but does so in a beautifully subtle way, that says “come on in, enter the chamber of our God and Savior.” It prepares and invites me to prayer, but does not force upon me an emotion that excludes me if I am feeling a different one. And it does not make a public forum of a type of passionate and intimate relationship that is perhaps best left to a more private setting.
At Steubenville, while I appreciated the youthful zeal and fervor, when songs were used that demanded a certain emotion in order to participate in them at all, I would wonder, “what if someone is depressed because they just broke up with a girlfriend and here they are in this cheery-cheery fervor?” Would they be united with their brothers and sisters in this worship–or isolated from them by the specific feeling quality of the music which they simply can’t enter into right now?
I thik everyone–no matter how they feel–should be able to embrace the music used in the liturgy. Somebody is grieving a loss of a loved one. Someone is worried about a job layoff. Someone is having marriage trouble. Someone is remorseful over past sins. Others are joyful–a new child has been born; a recent wedding, etc. Good liturgical music ought to be able to gather into itself ALL of the people with a wide variety of emotions in a way that is still spiritually deep and powerful. I don’t think anything does this as well as chant (properly-sung, of course).
Br. Francis



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Br. Francis de Sales, OP

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:10 am


I would like to add that I think this sort of music can be fine in a group context so long as it is a non-liturgical setting and if it is a gathering where everyone is on the same page as far as liking this sort of music.
If I know ahead of time that passionate praise-and-worship sort of music is going to be used at a prayer service (such as the sort used for “festival of praise” events at Steubenville), and I want to go because I find it spiritually uplifting–fine. I can go, and others who don’t care for this music are free not to go.
But the Mass is a different context. We have a duty (and hopefully a deep desire) to go to Mass. We are not free to choose not to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Therefore, it could perhaps be considered a matter of justice that a type of music that only suits a portion of the congregation, and makes another portion feel excluded, should not be used for the common worship of the church. Save this for things outside of Mass where it is OK for people to self-select according to particular spiritualities and emotional dispositions. But for the Mass, the music should aim for a spiritual freedom that allows for a more all-embracing and genuine unity of all present.
Br. Francis, OP



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Chris

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:32 am


Oh, yes, I have heard this song. But never in a Mass setting, only in worship and praise settings. I associate this song and others like it as either charismatic or Christian music carryovers to a Catholic audience. I don’t personally care for either genre in a Mass setting.
The first time I heard this song was at a Youth 2000 retreat in Michigan. I was older at the time than its intended audience, but by the end of the day, I just snuck in with the Blessed Sacrament so I could spend time with Him without the praise and worship music. My ears were in reverb mode.
It was just too much for me. I wanted quiet time with Him.
Breathe itself is OK, but I wouldn’t want to sing it at Mass.



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Lawrence King

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:45 am


Just a minor nitpick: Peter’s third response uses philios, just like his first two responses. But remember that our meaning of agape was itself a Christian invention; Josef Pieper says that this word was only a vague word for “liking someone” before Christianity re-defined it. Jerome, following the weaker meaning of the word, translates agape as diligere and philios as amare in John 21:15-17.
In any event, I’m with Leon Podles on this one. Breathless love songs to Jesus may be fine for Amy Grant, but they aren’t going to get more males to show up in church.



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Gashwin

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:31 am


Hmm. I like Breathe. I’ve been slowly warming up to the “Praise & Worship” scene, and some of it (not all) seems ok for Mass. And I’ve been in several settings with tons of males present who sing this (and other P&W) hymn quite devoutly. [I don't mind drums either. I love Palestrina. And Chant. And P&W. Go figure. De gustibus ... ]
Amy, at some point back you’d mentioned something about liturgical music: that really, ever since the hymn was introduced things have started going downhill. Well, that’s not exactly what you said but that’s how I recall it.
I wonder. I’m far from being an expert on matters liturgical (Have to say that. There’s all kinds of intimidatingly brilliant people who comment here! :)) — but, sometimes I wonder if we’re not chanting (like the East does) the service, we’re going to be always left with these questions. What’s appropriate? How much is culturally conditioned (given that the Latin Rite is celebrated in a huge variety of settings)? And, I guess, who decides?



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Gashwin

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:34 am


Hmm. I like Breathe. I’ve been slowly warming up to the “Praise & Worship” scene, and some of it (not all) seems ok for Mass. And I’ve been in several settings with tons of males present who sing this (and other P&W) hymn quite devoutly. [I don't mind drums either. I love Palestrina. And Chant. And P&W. Go figure. De gustibus ... ]
Amy, at some point back you’d mentioned something about liturgical music: that really, ever since the hymn was introduced things have started going downhill. Well, that’s not exactly what you said but that’s how I recall it.
I wonder. I’m far from being an expert on matters liturgical (Have to say that. There’s all kinds of intimidatingly brilliant people who comment here! :)) — but, sometimes I wonder if we’re not chanting (like the East does) the service, we’re going to be always left with these questions. What’s appropriate? How much is culturally conditioned (given that the Latin Rite is celebrated in a huge variety of settings)? And, I guess, who decides?



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Kevin Miller

posted July 10, 2006 at 6:55 am


Ditto to Lawrence King’s comment re: John 21 – I was also going to point out that Peter never uses agape there – his third response, like his first and second, uses philia.
And there’s simply no evidence that in the NT the words are anything but synonyms – that the Christian distinction between agape and philia has developed yet at that point. There’s far too much over-reading of John 21 on that matter.
In fact, it’s pretty clear from the text that the three questions – the two using agape, and the one using philia – are meant to be understood as the same question (and, hence, that the answers, all using philia, are all meant to be direct answers to, not evasions of, the questions, even the first two questions with their use of agape).



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Mary Kay

posted July 10, 2006 at 7:14 am


The city I lived in before moving had an evangelical but no Catholic station, so I listened to a lot of praise music. Some of it I really liked, but I couldn’t stand either the rock sound or the moany, breathless ones even on the radio, much less at Mass. For much the same reason as Br. Francis describes about public displays of affection, that song at Mass would sound like a public orgy to me.
I will only touch on the typical (for Catholic blogs) discussion of Liturgical Music Today, which frequently has a “vertical versus horizontal” focus, to say that even the most vertical traditional Mass, even when the priest celebrated alone, had more community than non-denominational fellowship services because they don’t have the concept of the communion of saints. (Oops, rather long sentence, must’ve been reading too much St. Paul lately.)
Someplace in my readings about Vatican II, it was said that Mass is a public act of community worship. Sidestepping the “veritcal versus horizontal” discussion for another time, that’s why Breathe is inappropriate as a liturgical song.



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Steve Cavanaugh

posted July 10, 2006 at 7:18 am


I’ve never encountered “Breathe” but I have a similar reaction to the Suzanne Toolan song that has the refrain beginning “Jesus, Jesus, You are the Lord…”
It seems to me such an intensely personal and intimate song (both in text and musical phrasing) that it is better suited for a private visit to the Blessed Sacrament than to a liturgical setting.
There is a reason that the official songs for Mass (you know, Introit, Offertory, Communion) are almost all drawn from the psalms. Liturgical music would be much better if modern composers would stop trying to create hymns which are far from the ideal at Mass, and would work on creating music for the official chant texts of the Mass, as they have been encouraged to do by Popes and Council for over 100 years.



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Roz

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:09 am


Good discussion, especially because the distinction is being drawn between reactions to songs like “Breathe” on their own, and questions about what’s appropriate in a liturgical setting.
IMHO, the reasons not to plant a kiss on the tabernacle in the presence of others (see Br. Francis above) isn’t that it is too private an action, but that (1) it might uncharitably disturb the other worshipers or (2) tempt us to pride through the singularity of our actions.
I share some of others’ qualms about the song Breathe, mostly because of the nature of the melody which incorporates a yearning quality that is distracting for too many of us, I think. But I’m a big proponent of the affective component of worship and will probably post about it on Exultet soon.



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Maureen

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:20 am


Re: opera
It’s not the style that’s making people cry — not in itself. It’s the singer, singing in the tradition, in a moving way. This is of course the case with any style of music, but why and how it happens is a mystery. (It helps if you do an entire opera setting up a situation that’ll make people cry.)
All I know is, that if the singer sings well — or even badly but in keeping with the song — sometimes the audience is touched. It’s not necessarily on those occasions when the singer thinks he’s done well, or even when the singer is most involved with the music. It does seem to be true that it’s hard to make others cry if one is crying oneself, whereas if you don’t cry, they will do it for you. But sometimes tears have little to do with the emotion of singer and song, and more to do with sheer beauty.
For more information, please see Aristotle on “catharsis”.
Re: emotional music at Mass
Don’t know this “Breathe” song.
Catharsis is good, and sometimes catharsis happens at Mass. There’s nothing wrong with being moved by Mass or a song I’m singing. And yes, those Spanish mystics loved the “gift of tears”.
But we ain’t there primarily for catharsis. There is a significant danger of making that the whole story. If it were, there’d be no point in going to Mass on days when I wasn’t feeling all emotional and singleminded. But instead, we know God is there in person for everyone all the time. We are singing to please the King; pleasing His people is a nice lagniappe.
The Greeks, in their plays, were providing a different sort of worship than we are. I honestly don’t understand the whole point of their civil plays in this context, as this never was explained in any class I took. But one of the ideas (after plays had been done a while) was that their poets were helping to make the people one through catharsis. Our God is right in front of us, and He Himself makes us one through His Sacraments and His Body. In some ways, Mass, like theater, does draw us together. But that’s just supposed to be used as a help to prayer, as a reduction of distraction. It’s not supposed to draw us all toward catharsis.
(Now, mind you, some priests and folks helping with Mass don’t pay any attention to timing and mood at all, and they make it very easy to get distracted.)
I guess my point is that the Mass meets you where you are. If you are feeling sad, God may well allow you to go on feeling sad, or He may comfort you mysteriously (either by Himself or through temporal means, like the baby in front of you or the music). The music may occasionally be cheery, but it shouldn’t presume to cheer the people up. (To cheer God up, that’s a nice goal.)
It’s like… okay, the Hallelujah Chorus. Cheering, to be sure, as well as majestic. Potentially a source of catharsis, sure. But in a proper context, it’s totally outward-focused — outward towards God. It does have emotional impact on the singers and the congregation or listeners, but only in the manner of a speeding train upon a leaf on the rail. The train speeds on toward God, and anything happening to the singers and audience is just subsidiary.
So although the music may go through different moods to fit the Mass and according to what seems suitable for worshipping God (and since art doesn’t just do the same thing in one way, being as individual as a person), it shouldn’t be _focused_ on much else than “God is wonderful! Praise to You! Here’s what we need! Thank You!” It shouldn’t _demand_ anything of the people at Mass other than “Pay attention! What’s going on is holy! Help the Church, the angels, and the saints worship God!”
(I suspect that chant was so very successful at doing that because it was so very different than most of the music we encounter. Other kinds of music can do that, too, though.)
Every literary and musical device must serve one or both of those two purposes. To the degree a song does not, it says it’s not a song for liturgical use.
However, there’s more to consider than just that. To the degree a song doesn’t serve the greater scheme of how a particular Mass worships God, it says that song doesn’t belong at that particular Mass. This is why music directors exist, and why they are supposed to coordinate with the priest. That way, no song or sung part of Mass becomes a distraction from God and prayer instead of an act of worship and an enhancement of the people’s prayer.
This isn’t rocket science, I think. Usually, if people set out to do this, it will happen. But it’s very important for musicians to intend it, because music is very good at doing what you intend. (Though it often does more than you intend, to be sure.)
Musicians have to clearly understand that, although you may use many of the same techniques as you do for performance, Mass isn’t a performance. Mass is a prayer. Every element must be a prayer. You are not singing to or for any audience but God; you are singing not as yourself, but as the voice of the people. Your own emotions are useful and interesting, but they don’t count the same way they do in performance or even in private prayer or as a member of the congregation.



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Little Gidding

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:29 am


I’ve never heard this song before. But these lyrics only refer to a consummation, not to an oblation. The “I” that is lingered on in the lyrics is afflated, not oblated. Using the colloquial phrase, “I’m lost without you,” isn’t enough, because it doesn’t anything to sacrifice or even humble the self except state the self’s outsized need. Put in a larger context of sacrifice, I think the sentiments would be fine, but taken out of that context, they seems to verge on making God the ultimate consumer object.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:40 am


If I have a problem with the song “Breathe”, it’s that the second verse apparently infers that “The Daily Bread” is “Your very Word Spoken to me”, aka the Scriptures. From a Catholic standpoint, it makes Communion less than it is.
When I do sing it, I would alter the second verse oh so slightly… “You are my Daily Bread… Your very Presence, Broken for me.” Aaah, much better.
As to “eroti-worship”, it’s very important for the songs to have some verse, some line that always grounds you back to Scripture, back to God. To be quite frank, I feel the same wonderful shivers on “Breathe” that I do when I sing the chorus of “How Great Thou Art” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”
The great thing about liturgy is that it doesn’t have me pray what I want, but pray as I ought. If I don’t feel like forgiving my brother, the written prayers force me to truly recant. If I’m in the dumps over a tragic personal circumstance or general malaise, the liturgy reawakens me to a God who heals my wounds and revives my spirit.
And that is why I love “Breathe.”



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marianne

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:41 am


“Breathe”: I, I, I, me. me, me. It’s all about how I feel and what you do for me.
Different from “Panis Angelicus” or “Holy God We Praise Your Name”, etc. Quite different.



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Dave Wells

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:48 am


I’ve never heard the song before, but looking over the lyrics it seems to be very self-centered: the word “I” appears 8 times, “my” 4 times, and “me” four times. Each and every line quoted is self-referential, and God- as God – is not mentioned at all. This song reflects so much of the popular culture about love: I love you so much because of how you make ME feel! I admit that this is a “praise and worship” song, but who exactly are we praising and worshipping??



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Dave Wells

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:49 am


Marianne, great minds evidently think alike simultaneously!



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 8:50 am


The following excerpt from Pope Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy addresses “operatic,” emotive aspects of nineteenth music and its impact on the Mass:

Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly than in many sermons. But there are already signs of danger to come. Subjective experience and passion are still held in check by the order of the musical universe, reflecting as it does the order of the divine creation itself. But there is already the threat of invasion by the virtuoso mentality, the vanity of technique, which is no longer the servant of the whole but wants to push itself to the fore. During the nineteenth century, the century of self-emancipating subjectivity, this led in many places to the obscuring of the sacred by the operatic. The dangers that had forced the Council of Trent to intervene were back again. In similar fashion, Pope Pius X tried to remove the operatic element from the liturgy and declared Gregorian chant and the great polyphony of the age of the Catholic Reformation (of which Palestrina was the outstanding representative) to be the standard for liturgical music. A clear distinction was made between liturgical music and religious music in general, just as visual art in the liturgy has to conform to different standards from those employed in religious art in general. Art in the liturgy has a very specific responsibility, and precisely as such does it serve as a wellspring of culture, which in the final analysis owes its existence to cult. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 146-7)



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Stacey

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:13 am


If I have a problem with the song “Breathe”, it’s that the second verse apparently infers that “The Daily Bread” is “Your very Word Spoken to me”, aka the Scriptures. From a Catholic standpoint, it makes Communion less than it is.
Since the song was released by Rebecca St. James (an Evangelical CCM artist), that’s not surprising, though I think that it’s more than mere inferrence. And that particular line seems to make this song particularly unsuited to use as a Communion hymn, though that’s only the place in the liturgy where I’ve ever heard it used. (And at the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta, too!) Every time I hear that song, I have to think, if only she knew what her “daily bread” was really supposed to be!



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Kate P

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:16 am


I’ll second little gidding’s and Marianne’s “I-me” notations, and others’ comments about getting caught up in emotional feelings. The first and only time I heard “Breathe” the setting was the Communion meditation at a Mass for the young adult group to which I belonged at the time. “Breathe” was sung solo by the queen of the drama queens in the group and it was a pretty obvious “look at me” moment for her. The song was running long but she still had to get that last dramatic pause and final “moan” (as Amy termed it, appropriately, I think) in. IIRC the chair of the group was particularly irked by it, although I think he went overboard in making it a point to tell her so. I guess I don’t understand why we have to fill in every second of Mass with sound, either, especially after reception of Our Lord in the most Blessed Sacrament, but that’s for another thread, I suppose.



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Anne

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:19 am


This song takes me back to my Lifeteen Mass phase. :) A couple of years ago, when I started desiring to come to Mass again, in the middle of college year, my mother took me to a Lifeteen Holy Hour, and this was one of the songs that was played. AT THE TIME, it moved me….I was on my knees in tears in seconds. As 19 year old, at that moment it was the first time I realized that the love of Christ wasn’t a fluffy thing and that true love was more than what I had been experiencing in my relationships thus far. That yearning in my heart was finally directed to God, not to some guy.
As I grew spiritually, it was like I didn’t NEED Lifeteen anymore. I didn’t NEED the praise&worship music. Those initial feelings were crucial, they helped draw me back in. But I realized that my devotion to God and His Church could not be placed on the shaky foundation of my feelings. For awhile, I could still sit through a Lifeteen-like Holy Hour, but the praise and worship music drove me crazy during Mass. I went to a Holy Hour a few months ago, and when the guitar kicked in, I groaned. It seemed SO inappropriate. Ahhh but when we chanted Tantum Ergo…. Loved it.
My liturgical music journey went from hiring the Lifeteen choir to sing at my wedding to asking them not to come and having the Latin Mass Choir come instead….and they were amazing. They chanted Psalm 127 (Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it…..Behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb…etc) during the Responsorial, the Regina Coeli for the offeratory, Panis Angelicus for Communion, Ave Maria for the dedication to Mary and St. Jospeh, and we had the Salve Regina (the chant one…not the one that has both Latin and English) for our recessional.
The majority of those attending were either non-Catholics or non-practicing…but everyone commented on the beauty of the music. Chant works because it calls our attention away from ourselves and allows us to meditate on the divine. It sounds like I imagine the Angels do as they worship God in the Beatific Vision.
Sorry for the long post….In short, I think praise and worship type music, like Breathe, MIGHT work for those who need it…but it can become a crutch. But who knows…maybe as a 19 year old if I had heard Panis Angelicus instead of “Breathe” I would still be here today. What’s appropriate? I feel like “Breathe” isn’t anymore, I certainly never want to hear it in Mass again…but in the setting of a Lifeteen situation, it is? I don’t know.



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Henry Dieterich

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:30 am


As usual, Pope Benedict nails it. A song which might be appropriate for individual worship or even in a devotional setting may not be appropriate in liturgical worship. For example, I don’t think that having the congregation singing “He Shall Feed His Flock” from Messiah at Mass would be very appropriate. It think “Breathe” falls into that category. It’s partly the words, which reflect the situation of an individual, not a community, before God, but even more the tune, which sounds very much like a pop ballad. There has been in the history of the Church since the earliest days a tension between those who wish to adorn the worship of the Church with the best of secular culture and those who warn that (as Jim C. points out above) some types of music or other expression may appeal to the flesh rather than the spirit. In the Renaissance, polyphony got carried to the point where it obscured or even changed the meaning of the text; in the nineteenth century, the “operatic” element threatened to turn the worship of God into a virtuoso performance. Today, perhaps, there is a risk of substituting a visceral emotional response for a movement of the Spirit in the heart in an attempt to stimulate (or possibly simulate) the affective component of worship. I find some songs of the “praise and worship” genre appropriate and edifying as liturgical hymns; others not so much so, either because they are musically ill-suited or theologically weak. Some appear to have been written using an automatic praise-song-generating machine. “Breathe” is good as a performance; one might well use it in private worship; it might be good for a group in a devotional context such as a prayer meeting; but not, I think, in the liturgy.
Twelve-year-old drummers should be kept away from public hearing except at junior high school recitals. A drum set can, however, be a useful support for a choir if played well and unobtrusively by a percussionist who understands the spirit of the liturgy, especially when there are a number of other orchestral instruments, particularly winds, in use. I would not have thought that, by the way, if I had not heard it myself.



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And Also With You

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:37 am


I think one of the problems with contemporary choruses like this is the way they are introduced to the masses (no pun intended). Many people first heard “Breathe” sung on the radio or CD by Michael W. Smith or Rebecca St. James. Now, when it’s “performed” (and I mean that quite literally) in a worship service, people are trying to copy (or “improve upon”) the sound and experience of the CD. Some things that might have a certain devotional quality while listening to a soloist can’t be duplicated (and should not be attempted) by the Church assembled.
There are so many factors here, too–our bombardment with sights and sounds from TV and radio, and the perceived need for worship to “compete” with that…the fact that most youth and adults no longer learn even rudimentary music-reading…and a total lack of catechesis about what worship really is.



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Dan G

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:43 am


Growing up as an Evangelical teenager in the ’80s, I was much exposed to the praise music genre–and I came to despise many of its songs. I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that, years later, many better, more genuinely prayerful songs are being written. One of my brothers is a Vineyard worship pastor and he does a superb job at it. (I am now a Catholic seminarian.)
What I hear in “Breathe,” though, is the absence of God. “I’m lost without you” — without! — seems to flavor the song. And so much of the verse is so abstract — “this is the air…”, “this is my daily…” — that when it finally shifts to addressing God as “you,” I just don’t believe it. Psalm 41/42 this is not: not a seeking of the face of God with tears by one who knows him, but a seeking of some emotional experience by one who seems not to know him at all — and not speaking to God, but speaking mostly to others who do not know him.
Some years ago, at an ecumenical gathering of young adults, one active Evangelical woman commented on how so many of the Catholics at the conference seemed to have such an intimate knowledge of Jesus. That is what this song lacks.



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ihidaya

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:57 am


Just a few “personal reaction” from reading comments.
Hymns do not have all that much place in the Catholic Mass. Yes, it is ok to have a meditation song at communion, but the ideal is to SING the liturgy and not to sing during the liturgy. so an opening hymn and a closing one and maybe a meditation hymn at the offertory….and those should be in sync with the liturgical year.
we are suppose to make the liturgy personal, not to make it feel personal. there is a big difference in the dynamics.
part of the problem is that Catholic worship has ended up just being the mass, so it has this pressure to provide for legitimate pieties. for the average person in the parish, the mass is the only service he finds at a parish. nothing has replaced novenas, processions, holy hours, forty hours, etc……and there is this tendency to cram it all into the Mass. even at weddings, funerals….it all seems to depend on the songs chosen. everything is mixed up.
about not being able to “pray the words”….this is really part of the liturgy. the book of psalms is the original prayerbook of the church, and it is not easy to pray the psalms. but again we learn how to enter into prayer rather than seek prayer to make us feel something. in private prayer we pray and open up to what we feel, in liturical prayer we enter into the mystery of the church’s prayer. again the mass is not there for our needs, (and we need to take care of these legitimate needs but in the right way and place).
i am not against worship and praise music at all and it is clear that it has a great potential on a pastoral level to reach people. this pastoral outreach is very important, there is an incredible lack of creativity and outreach in this area in the Catholic church. but this is very different than liturgical worship and the mass is impoverished when it forced to be something it is not.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:02 am


I have a thousand reactions to this, but I’ll attempt to remain focused:
1) Emotion, senitimentality and even eros are holy and proper responses to the love of God, and anyone who claims otherwise is ABSOLUTELY disconnected from the mystical tradition of the Church. Many have mentioned John of the Cross. I’ll mention Francis of Assisi. Bonaventure’s bio mentions how that in moments of prayer Francis would become so enraptured with God that he would seek to hide himself because he felt scandalized by sharing the “initimate embraces” he experienced with God in public. COUNTLESS numbers of the mystics speak of similar experiences, and are filled with emotive love, and liturgy is no exception, being the source and summit of prayer. Emotion must be balanced with reason and deeper conversion, but anyone who suggests that senitimentality is not an appropriate response to God and suggests completely devoiding our liturgy from senitimentality is not consistent with the Tradition, Scripture or the mystics.
2) Granted, the emotional timbre of music in the liturgy must be universal in nature, and some music may be completely unsuitable because of its very selfish or private nature, or for many other reasons. But “Breathe”!?!?!?! Have we not all pined for God in breathless moments? Are not the Psalms riddled with the same imagery. “My body pines for you”, etc! Perhaps not, but there is no theme in that song that does not appear in the Scriptures and liturgy elsewhere.
3) Contrary to Br. DeSales insistence, no music is universally appealing to everyone in every situation. When moments of great joy and jubilation arise, I find chant comepletely and totally inadequate. Liturgical documents speak of chant as having favored place, but never do they suggest that any art form is infallible. Art can be sacred, but not infallible.
4) We MUST stop attempting to use personal taste as restrictive license for the liturgy. Selfishness, yes. “Show” mentality, absolutely. But I’ve been at MANY Charismatic liturgies where I felt no selfish pride, and many Novus Ordo latin liturgies with chant and organ where I felt like the whole darn thing was “look at us sing chant, and see how many cool dissonant chords we can make with the organ.” Many musical styles can be used with reverence and piety, and while chant and organ will always have privileged place, suggesting that they have the only place because we like them better is not consistent with the documents. No one will like all music at liturgy no matter how hard we try, and as such, cannot be a rubric for deciding the appropriateness of the music.
5) Before people start typing a response, I am NOT ADVOCATING FOR ALL CONTEMPORARY MUSIC. There is a ton of garbage out there that should not come near the liturgy. I LOVE CHANT, I adore the reverent use of organ. That said, I find a lot of contemporary music VERY appropriate and see no reason that it should be banned. My point is that there must be clear, consistent reasons to accept or ban whole genres of music, or even particular hymnody. I see no reason that “Breathe” itself is at all inappropriate. Even the idea that our daily bread is the Word is not heretical. Its narrow, but not heretical. The Word of God is as much our bread as the Eucharist, hence why refer to the first portion of our mass as Liturgy of the Word.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:05 am


I earnestly disagree with those who hold that “Breathe” is “I, I, I, I”. A popular practice amongst many p&w leaders is to sing the verse the first time in the third person… “This is the air I breathe” but then shift to the second person the second time around: “You are the air I breathe”. In this case, the “you’s” trump the “I’s.”
(It’s also very practical: the melody is established for first-timers, so that the song can progress to a vertical worship for all congregants).
Also read the lyrics again. The song is, in no way advocating “look at ME.” It is instead advocating the Biblical phrase: “Without You I am nothing”.
And while the word “desperate” can have an erotic charge to it, it is also the voice of the voiceless, of those who are clinging to hope. Which is all of us, liturgically speaking.



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LCB

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:08 am


I have helped at a handful of youth conferences, all of which have had this song (and similar songs) constantly being sung. At first, I was very taken back and bothered by them. It seemed almost like a cult-trick to me; trying to arouse specific emotions in those present and making the entire conference about one big emotional high.
A live band was always present and, once the crowd had reached an emotional fervor, would offer “suggestions” to the crowd on what to do next: “Put your hands in the air, tell yourself that now is the time to surrender…to God, feel the lyrics and Spirit!” A number of people would have that glazed over, hypnotized look on their faces…probably because a mild hypnosis had been induced (look at the keywords: i am desperate, i am lost, surrender, you are in me, and that’s just one song!).
All that being said, it doesn’t seem as if emotional highs are all that terrible for getting teenagers involved in the faith. The process of accessing and understanding the deeper nature of Catholicism can follow many different paths. All of the programs I was involved in had, as a core component, trying to draw people past faith-as-emotion and into encountering deeper mysteries and realities.
Amy, I know I felt very uncomfortable when I was first exposed to this type of worship. If it feels a bit superficial, well that’s because it is. Catholicism’s beauty lies in its incredible depth; most of the teens involved are at the first step on a very long journey. It would be a shame if they never progressed beyond the emotional highs, but it would also be a shame if they never started the journey at all.



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DF

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:10 am


From your description, it sounds like an weak echo of Evanesence’s “Save Me from the Dark” (a great song). As Hank Hill famously said: “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse.”
It’s certainly not an Offertory, which I would think would include an element of offering.
Fred



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:11 am


Nick,
I think the broader point is that, as Pope Benedict writes, liturgical music and religious music in general conform to different standards. That doesn’t necessarily make “Breathe” a bad song, but its emotive, personal chords and other extra-liturgical qualities render it unfit for the Mass.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:14 am


“but its emotive, personal chords and other extra-liturgical qualities render it unfit for the Mass.”
WHERE IN THE DOCUMENTS DOES IT SAY THAT EMOTIVE THEMES IN MUSIC RENDER THEM UNFIT? What rubric in the GIRM suggest music having any personal references is inappropriate?



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:16 am


Rich…
I consider many great hymns to offer emotive, personal chords. “How Great Thou Art”, “O Come Let Us Adore Him”, and the “Ave Maria”. Should these be ousted?



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:16 am


What constitutes “extra-liturgical” qualities, which document uses this language, and in what precedent was music deemed inappropriate based on those standards?



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Adam

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:17 am


Soul of my Savior, sanctify my breast
Body of Christ, be Thou my saving Guest;
Blood of my Savior, bathe me in thy tide,
Wash me, ye waters gushing from His side!
So, now everyone explain to me why this is OK and Breathe isn’t.



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:22 am


Nick and John,
If you’re willing to defend the inclusion of these songs (or just this one) according to what the Church teaches about these subjects then we can have a conversation. Otherwise it’s just you defending whatever gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. In other words, you carry the burden for why these songs are appropriate; so start carrying it.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:25 am


Rich…
I wrote above why, this particular song, works from a liturgical perspective. Not once did I address it from a “warm/fuzzy” perspective. Please read my posts a little more closely.
Cordially,
Nick



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:32 am


Nick,
The point, which is fairly obvious, is that what you and I think about a song isn’t dispositive; the Church’s standards, which are bit more complex than whether or not a song is scriptural, are.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:39 am


Rich…
If there’s a nihil obstat or the impramatur behind the Catholic music supplements that incorporate “Breathe”, (which there are), then I can say on the weight of such that it’s not merely based on a personal opinion.
You still have to answer the questions based our objection of your personal opinion about “emotive chords” which you raised.
Cordially,
Nick



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ihidaya

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:46 am


I think this thread has reached diminishing returns. once it gets into “cross talk” it goes round and round. And after someone decides to “pontificate” what is black and white and then decrees to put the burden of proof on others…..any discussion is all over.
I am sure you have some good ideas Rich, but your style sure can end a dialogue (a personal sharing and listening)



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:49 am


Nick,
I’m under no obligation to match my statements to your standards. That you think I am underscores my point.



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TSO

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:49 am


Perhaps it’s only aesthetically embarrassing, given the moaning & all.
I’ve always liked what Flannery O’Connor once said:
“The virtue of novenas is that they keep you at it for nine consecutive days and the human attention being what it is, this is a long time. I hate to say most of these prayers written by saints-in-an-emotional-state. You feel you are wearing somebody else’s finery and I can never describe my heart as “burning” to the Lord (who knows better) without snickering.”



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:51 am


Rich,
Ad hominum comments such as “Otherwise it’s just you defending whatever gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside” are unnecessary. That language or insinuation appeared no where in my post.
The proof you asked for:
1) No bishop in the United States, nor the Holy has issued any sanction specifically citing “Breathe” or any specific contemporary genres as unfit for liturgy. BXVI’s general comments have not been given any specific application, nor have they been interpreted so as to apply them to any specific hymnody.
2) Neither Sacrosanctum Concillium, the GIRM, Music in Catholic Worship (USCCB), nor Liturgical Music Today (USCCB) make any specific prohibitions regarding “Breathe” or contemporary music in general, nor do the norms they lay down render this song or its genre inappropriate. If you disagree, cite a passage and we can discuss.
3) None of the documents listed above suggest that chant, while privileged, is the only form of music allowable in the liturgy. If you disagree, cite a passage and we can discuss.
If the Church does not teach or legislate against this music or its themes, it cannot be restricted by anyone other than the competent authority. That authority rests with the Apostles and their successors, not with Rich Leonardi or those who happen to share his taste in music.



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Naomi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:52 am


I think it was Larry Norman who coined the term “Jesus-is-my-girlfriend songs” for those anthems that could easily be dedicated either to God or to the human beloved. They were certainly ubiquitous in the Evangelical subculture of the 70s and early 80s. The traffic flowed both ways, with earnest church kids singing “Get Together” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand…” with a few lyrical tweaks “When the One Who left us here/Returns for us at last…”
I have not only heard and sung “Breathe” as a post-communion meditation, I’ve signed it in ASL for a church concert. Now signing a song ALWAYS intensifies the emtional experience for me; at that same concert, I signed “Panis Angelicus,” and was overwhelmed as well.
To bring out the worship aspect amongst all those “I” and “me” notes, I signed it with the all the motion and orientation of my body toward God; it was the “verb” of longing and hunger (which is how I rendered “desperate”) that spread over those long beats.
And I did indeed include the sign for “Eucharist” in the cluster of signs I used to render “daily bread.”
It’s a beautiful song, but it might take some actual catchesis or meditation to put it in its proper perspective. It’s probably better as part of a women’s retreat or as part of a devotional service, rather than as a part of Mass.



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:52 am


Sure, ihid …, you sneer at my “pontificating,” but I’m the one with a questionable style. Again, the point is that any suggested innovation to the Mass must conform to standards set by the Church. That’s not a personal decision on my part, or a debating tactic; it’s simply a fact.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:55 am


“It’s a beautiful song, but it might take some actual catchesis or meditation to put it in its proper perspective. It’s probably better as part of a women’s retreat or as part of a devotional service, rather than as a part of Mass.”
If that’s the case, the imagery used in Panis Angelicus, Tantum Ergo, and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep silence also requires substantial catechesis, and perhaps should be reserved for contemplative retreats.



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:58 am


John,
Since your post is a collection of straw men, it needs no rebuttal. Again, the burden is yours; carry it.



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Little Gidding

posted July 10, 2006 at 11:00 am


“Soul of my Savior, sanctify my breast
Body of Christ, be Thou my saving Guest;
Blood of my Savior, bathe me in thy tide,
Wash me, ye waters gushing from His side!
So, now everyone explain to me why this is OK and Breathe isn’t.”
The reason the first is okay is the central image of sacrifice and oblation, the dignity of the cross, the wellspring of our salvation. Breathe has nothing of this in it, but rather a consuming of the air, the bread, etc. As with many aspects of the Liturgy these days, the sacrifice of the Mass is de-emphasized here for the communal meal that occurs at Mass, which we eat. Nothing wrong with eating the Lord, or with expressing the emotions being tied to that, but aren’t these the consequence of humility and gratitude for the sacrifice?



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 11:05 am


Rich,
I did satisfy my burden. How else does one defend liturgical practices than citing the documents or the actions of the bishops in the Sacred Tradition? If the Magisterium allows for it, or its norms implicity allow for it (which they do), then I have met my burden of proof.
To wit, in rhetorical parlance, the burden of proof is always on change. “Breathe” and songs like it are in wide use in liturgy throughout the world. Precedent has been established, so the burden of proof lies in demonstrating is illicit character.
Finally, Rich, you are not a bishop (I assume) and thus are not the arbitor of liturgical norms, and as such have not the right to determine when a liturgical questions is open or closed. As such, I am not worried about whether you think I have met your burden of proof.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 11:09 am


“As with many aspects of the Liturgy these days, the sacrifice of the Mass is de-emphasized here for the communal meal that occurs at Mass, which we eat.”
Interesting point to suggest that it could be a more rich song if it included other imagery, but there are countless songs in common use even in the Tridentine era when the theme of flesh sacrifice was not prevalent. Sacrifice is a critical and central theme in the liturgy, but not the only theme.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 11:09 am


I’ve always liked your posts, Rich, but here you have disappointed me.
Stop dodging the issues. Stop ignoring the rebuttals. Stop speaking for “The Church” as if you are Ben-16. Stop raising straw-men arguments, and then turn it around.
The impramaturs and nihil obstats of the Catholic music supplements have spoken. It is that which holds the authoritative voice of the church, not your opinion-disguised-as-mere-pontification.
Cordially,
Nick



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ihidaya

posted July 10, 2006 at 11:10 am


“Again, the point is that any suggested innovation to the Mass must conform to standards set by the Church.”
A hymn sung during a meditational/silent moment in the eucharist is not suggesting some innovation. these are moments where one can pick a more pastoral song appropriate for the season, the occasion or the persons present. now we may all have different tastes in music, but there can be times when it is appropriate to even sing Breathe (or even my favorite non liturgical song AMAZING GRACE!) during one of those moments in the liturgy and to do so is not making some innovation but following the present guidelines. An innovation would be to substitute the song for the responsorial psalm…something along those lines would be wrong. Pontificate all you want Rich, but i will follow the chruch’s guidlines for now!



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Fr. Rob Johansen

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:27 pm


John and Nick:
While I think Rich’s manner might be a bit off-putting, I think he is right, and the points John made, as Rich said, really are straw men.
John wrote:
No bishop in the United States, nor the Holy has issued any sanction specifically citing “Breathe” or any specific contemporary genres as unfit for liturgy…
Neither Sacrosanctum Concillium, the GIRM, Music in Catholic Worship (USCCB), nor Liturgical Music Today (USCCB) make any specific prohibitions regarding “Breathe” or contemporary music in general, nor do the norms they lay down render this song or its genre inappropriate.

These points don’t really prove anything. As far as I know, no bishop or the Holy See has specifically cited The Blur’s “Woo Hoo” or Britney Spears’ “Slave” as unfit for liturgy, and the documents you cite do not adress them either, therefore one could argue on that basis that it would be OK to use them at Mass. Furthermore, as far as I know, no bishop nor the Holy See, nor, again, the documents you cite, have specifically proscribed Hip Hop as a genre unfit for liturgy. Does that therefore mean that “Hip Hop” Masses would be OK?
Giving fitting worship to God in the Liturgy (like many other aspects of our life in the Faith) is about more than just avoiding what has been specifically condemned. It is about learning to “sentire cum ecclesia” . The mind of the Church about sacred music has been expressed, as others have pointed out here, by numerous councils, documents, and popes, including our current holy father. The entire weight of that Tradition militates against certain genres in worship, and specifically against songs like “Breathe”, for reasons well-enumerated above.
It’s really not enough to say “no one has condemned it specifically, so it’s OK”. The seeming indifference to the Church’s tradition that underlies such an attitude may be the cause of Rich’s lack of patience. If you want to be taken seriously in a discussion such as this, you really have to show that you are engaging the tradition, not brushing it off.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:40 pm


Fr. Rob…
Forgive me for my ignorance, but I fail to understand how singing about Jesus and the Eucharist, and highlighting pertinent Biblically-based themes, is not engaging the tradition.
Also, am I to assume that no more original songs can be written? When “Hail Holy Queen” and “Soul of My Savior” were written, because they were new in their day, could it not be assumed that such writing was also not adhering to the tradition of the Church?
Cordially,
Nick



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Fr. Rob Johansen

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:42 pm


I thought I might have been a bit uncharitable by suggesting that John wasn’t really engaging the Tradition above, but then he wrote this in a subsequent comment:
To wit, in rhetorical parlance, the burden of proof is always on change. “Breathe” and songs like it are in wide use in liturgy throughout the world. Precedent has been established, so the burden of proof lies in demonstrating is illicit character.
This is merely silly. The fact that something becomes widely used does not therefore make it OK. All kinds of things have become widespread at different places and times. In certain dioceses in Michigan during the 70’s and 80’s General Absolution became “widely used”. Does that mean it was OK? Of course not. During the same period, in some places, “Clown Masses” became widespread. Would anyone seriously argue that a clown Mass represents the mind of the Church?
Under Church law and discipline, there is no such thing as a “precedent” or custom which violates universal norms or principles. We have a name for a “precedent” which goes against the universal norm, or violates the clearly expressed mind of the Church. That name is “abuse”.



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Fr. Rob Johansen

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:02 pm


Nick:
I was not addressing “singing about Jesus and the Eucharist, and highlighting pertinent Biblically-based themes…” in my comments above. I was addressing John’s inadequate argumentation.
Of course, “singing about Jesus and the Eucharist, and highlighting pertinent Biblically-based themes…” is part and parcel of engaging the Tradition.
And of course, new music is and can be written. I don’t see how anything I wrote would prohibit new music. But new music can and should be written in such a way that it flows from the Church’s tradition. The key phrase is “organic development.” Renaissance polyphony, Mozart orchestral Masses, and the sacred works of Olivier Messiaen can all be seen to follow a path of organic development. And, lest you think I’m partial only to “highbrow” music, I would say that something like Richard Proulx’s “Mass for the City”, which incorporates jazz elements, is in the line of organic development. My former music professor at Sacred Heart seminary, Calvert Shenk (RIP), wrote a great deal of “modern” sounding sacred music which nonetheless can be seen as being in continuity with the Church’s tradition.
The tradition is very big and broad, but it does have boundaries.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:05 pm


Hi Fr. Rob…
In all due respect, what are the universal norms or principles violated upon the singing of “Breathe”? (BTW… Breathe is not a hip-hop song, and with some creative fingering, can be accompanied with the organ).
Nick



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:12 pm


Fr Rob…
In all due respect, how can you justify one music’s part of organic development (jazz… a 20th century invention out of black-spiritist roots) over another (rock, out of similar roots)? Or are you stating that the problem is simply the accompaniment, which could be altered?
I mean, have you heard “Breathe”? I wonder how you could object to the tone of the song, which works very well with acoustic guitar, acoustic piano, or even organ if done right. It can be sung congregationally very successfully, with beauty and precision and without any deference to modern culture…
Nick



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L.T.

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:18 pm


Thank you for restoring some sanity to this discussion, Fr. Bob. The defensiveness of people trying to legitimate a piece entitled “Breathe” in the Holy Mass is surreal. The fact that the title first made me think of Michelle Branch’s delightful li’l diddy is enough reason for me to believe it belongs anywhere but in the Mass. I don’t need any document to tell me that. It’s what Ratzinger meant by the SPIRIT of the Liturgy, which is not something that’s subject to a referendum with each new hip song that a bunch of people happen to find fulfilling.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:23 pm


L.T.
In all due respect, “Breathe” pre-dates the music of Michelle Branch. So you cannot accurately state one came from another.
Nick



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Todd

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:27 pm


A few things:
– I’ve used it twice, and one of my choir directors uses it more often. I think it’s an intimate expression, but not far off from Psalm 63, “I will remember you on my bed …”
– The lyrics are me-and-Jesus, and I believe this is the alternative to the we-are-church movement which seems to be out of favor among the reform2 folks. Rather than an intentional pelagianism, “we” songs have always struck me as more a counterweight to “I” songs. That doesn’t preclude the need for “you” songs, as in “you are God” material.
– And the music itself: well it depends on how you play it. You can play it piano pop, singer-guitar, it’s been harmonized for various choirs, and I’ve heard it done with a pipe organ. A solo crooner would make a lot of people nervous who might already be nervous about their sexuality or sexual expression in church.
Taken on the whole, the question is liturgical versus devotional music. Like Panis Angelicus, Breathe leans way over to the latter. I suppose I could see a whole church singing it–and they probably would. I’d hope that overall, a parish repertoire has balance to go along with it. Songs like this every week would be a problem, in my thinking.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:29 pm


L.T.
Forgive me for writing again, but your comment is most illogical:
” The fact that the title first made me think of Michelle Branch’s delightful li’l diddy is enough reason for me to believe it belongs anywhere but in the Mass. ”
That’s akin to saying that because “Madonna and Child” makes me think of that popular blasphemous singer that such belongs anywhere but in the Mass. Or that Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” reminds me of the destruction and murders of a Vietnamese village, that this is clearly not appropriate for liturgy.
Nick



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Pseudo-Thomas

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:38 pm


This thread is interesting. I haven’t read all of it, so please don’t bash me if my point isn’t as relevant as it could be.
Generally, I think sometimes people have a hard time distinguishing between “religious” art (be it music, paintings, etc.) and “sacred” art. I have never heard “Breathe”, so I don’t want my opinions to be presumed as applying specifically to that song.
But how many times have we all heard a saccarine, pop-laced tune at Mass and simply found it trite, tacky, and distracting? It’s not that it is bad in-and-of-itself. It’s simply that I find it analogous to a seven-year-old wanting to load up on PB&J at Thanksgiving. I’m left thinking WHAT ABOUT THE FEAST YOU’RE IGNORING???!!!!
You don’t even have to rely exclusively on Gregorian Chant to at least use sacred music. “Lift High The Cross” is enough. But “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Communion We Go” just doesn’t cut it for yours truly.
Sometimes I think the music choices at Mass reflect that we have lost our sense of the sacred. We may view Mass as a religious experience, perhaps even a religious obligation. But sacredness is something else.
Just an observation . . .



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Liam

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:42 pm


Re the notion of precedence:
Not quite yet. The practice may have arisen, but it has yet to receive legislative blessing to constitute a precedent in the Roman way. (Oh, and it takes more than 30 years to establish a precedential custom; there are other requirements too but I will forego that for now).
Actually, the issue of hymnody has been in a gray area for some time and only recently (past 5 years) has it been ripening for legislative treatment. That is, before the Council, vernacular hymns were only done at low Masses and basically were outside the rubrics because what the servers (and choir in some cases) did was what the congregation was doing for the purpose of the rubrics. Since the Council, there have been norms issued at different levels of authority, and statements that have very little authority. In 2001, Rome said that the texts of hymns for public liturgy would have to be approved by bishops’ conferences and submitted to Rome for recognitio by 2006; the USCCB has made preliminary steps in that direction but is behind the deadline, and Rome has not jumped the shark yet. Eventually, though, the idea is that hymn texts will be subjected to at least a modicum of authoritative evaluation before they can continue to be used in public liturgy. *That* would constitute precedent.
Given what the BCL’s Music COmmittee drafted in November 2005 for guidance, I am not sure “Breathe” would make the cut. That’ just my reaction.
Also, Rome has *never* been warm to the idea of giving mystical dimensions of spirituality a recognized platform in public liturgy. That bias goes deep in the Roman soul, even to pagan times: Roman civic religion in the pagan era was superstitious but highly disapproving of emotion. Christian Rome adapted this bias for Christian purposes, learning from the examples of other churches how emotion and enthusiasm had to be channelled carefully. Customarily, devotions have been the channels, but the lack of attention to devotions in the wake of the Council invariably gave rise to pressures being placed on liturgy that were not previously as high because of the availability of other channels. Rome has seen this and seems to be a deliberate approach to addressing it.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:46 pm


Hi Pseudo-Thomas,
Thanks for joining the discussion.
In all due respect, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Communion We Go”, if it were real, would not work because the tone of the song goes against the tone one wishes to convey during Communion, that is, a sense of solemnity and awesomeness. In contrast, “Lift High the Cross” (written by a Lutheran in the early 70s), works because the melody so wonderfully matches the tone of the lyrics (lift HIGH the Cross… you can actually imagine lifting the Cross HIGH when singing it). Of course, I wouldn’t dare do LHTC during Communion, but as a Recessional…
I hope that one day you do get to hear “Breathe”, done properly and without flair and gaudiness. I hate how one person’s bad experience with a song sours their belief of that song’s appropriateness to liturgy. (I’ve always heard the Easter hymn “Ye Sons and Daughters” as a minor-key dirge… it’s SO tempting to say it’s inappropriate).



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L.T.

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:52 pm


Nick, my point was that they simply remind us of what is not in the ageless Spirit of the Liturgy, ie. that which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, universally true, good, and beautiful for all peoples and times.
You keep arguing from analogy as if we’re saying “Breathe” is bad or evil. That’s not the issue. You keep arguing why it shouldn’t be included in the Mass, which is a very low standard and is the wrong issue too. The issue is, as with all things Catholic, apostolicity, Christological richness and solemnity – a much higher and fitting standard. That’s not a question of taste or personal experience but of communion with the Christ of the Apostles and his Saints throughout time immemorial, not the Christ of the Zeitgeist. At the very least, it means that while a song like “Breathe” may be technically permissible in liturgy, it does not merit the same passionate defense we would give to, say, the Salve Regina.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:58 pm


L.T.,
In all due respect, nobody here has convinced me how “Breathe” goes against the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, universally true, good, and beautiful for all peoples and times, except that it is current. That is an equally poor rationale to write it off completely.
Nick



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Liam

posted July 10, 2006 at 2:40 pm


Uh, Lift High The Cross and its tune were written by an Anglican in 1916. If you connect it to the Great War, you get a sense for context….



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 2:43 pm


Fr. Rob,
I agree with you that to “senitrie cum ecclesia” is not to look for the lowest common denominator, to only look for what is not legislated against. This was not my point.
My point, following the via positiva, was that “Breathe” does conform to the standards set forth by those documents. Additionally, following the via negativa, no legislation has spoken against it or songs like it.
I spoke in the negative mode because Rich was insinuating almost infallibly that the Church forbids such music. As such, I was trying to demonstrate that it does not forbid it. My counter point is that this song and many songs like it actually conform quite well to those standards.
Now, I accept Liam’s astute observation that since the Council these liturgical documents have do not provide much direction on this issue, and that more is likely to come. However, I still contend that what little direction that has been given so far leaves plenty of room for these songs. The sum of these documents is clear:
–Organ and chant have privileged place
–Other texts require episcopal approval or guidelines
–Other forms of music require discernment for appropriateness
–Music should lead in sacrifical, selfless worship, and be of the highest quality
There is nothing in “Breathe” and nothing about “Breathe” that, in my mind, violates the letter or spirit of this.
I agree with Nick. No one has demonstrated with any reason other than personal taste why “Breathe” does not fully conform to the liturgical norms in their letter and spirit.
I agree that we must “senitire cum ecclesia”, but one cannot use that axiom merely for their own purposes. I’ll recant my position if someone can show me how this music is inconsistent with the long-standing teaching of the Magisterium. “Senitire cum ecclesia”, but not necessarily “sentire cum Societas Adoremus”
PS – I spoke with Calvert Shenk many times myself, but his argument was clear: he felt that this kind of music was “low”…”Cowboy music” if I remember right. He was right in insisting that chant and organ remain primary even after the Council, but “high” and “low” remain very subjective and hard to parse. Nick’s rebutal is fair…jazz is acceptable, but modern melodic ballads are not why?



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 2:44 pm


Fr. Rob,
I agree with you that to “senitrie cum ecclesia” is not to look for the lowest common denominator, to only look for what is not legislated against. This was not my point.
My point, following the via positiva, was that “Breathe” does conform to the standards set forth by those documents. Additionally, following the via negativa, no legislation has spoken against it or songs like it.
I spoke in the negative mode because Rich was insinuating almost infallibly that the Church forbids such music. As such, I was trying to demonstrate that it does not forbid it. My counter point is that this song and many songs like it actually conform quite well to those standards.
Now, I accept Liam’s astute observation that since the Council these liturgical documents have do not provide much direction on this issue, and that more is likely to come. However, I still contend that what little direction that has been given so far leaves plenty of room for these songs. The sum of these documents is clear:
–Organ and chant have privileged place
–Other texts require episcopal approval or guidelines
–Other forms of music require discernment for appropriateness
–Music should lead in sacrifical, selfless worship, and be of the highest quality
There is nothing in “Breathe” and nothing about “Breathe” that, in my mind, violates the letter or spirit of this.
I agree with Nick. No one has demonstrated with any reason other than personal taste why “Breathe” does not fully conform to the liturgical norms in their letter and spirit.
I agree that we must “senitire cum ecclesia”, but one cannot use that axiom merely for their own purposes. I’ll recant my position if someone can show me how this music is inconsistent with the long-standing teaching of the Magisterium. “Senitire cum ecclesia”, but not necessarily “sentire cum Societas Adoremus”
PS – I spoke with Calvert Shenk many times myself, but his argument was clear: he felt that this kind of music was “low”…”Cowboy music” if I remember right. He was right in insisting that chant and organ remain primary even after the Council, but “high” and “low” remain very subjective and hard to parse. Nick’s rebutal is fair…jazz is acceptable, but modern melodic ballads are not why?



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 2:49 pm


The copyright for “Lift High the Cross” by George William Kitchin, Michael Robert Newbolt and Sydney Hugo Nicholson is 1974, Hope Publishing Company (no renewals of copyright before then). Also, I do not know of any hymnals (like the Episcopal-1940) that carried this before then.
For all it’s worth, it could be that the melody could have been from 1916, but the words came from 1974. Otherwise, how could a copyright be written so late?
If I am mistaken, mea culpa. But you can see how one could get certain songs mistaken.



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+ Alan

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:01 pm


Good Lord, have mercy.
Couldn’t help myself. Some apologetics work going on here.



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ihidaya

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:05 pm


it was St Francis that brought in the whole toubador tradition into the church in a very powerful way and really upset the current monastic way.
it was St Philip Neri who set up oratories in rome so that young people could sing and share in hymns and music in their current styles that were not allowed.
it was St Luis de Montfort who wrote hundreds of hymns and put them to the tune of popular music and even to the tune of drinking songs.(these hymns have been recently translated into english!)
i have gone to mass with the Missionaries of Charity and they have put beautiful words to popular songs (the hail mary to a simon and garfunkle song, the peter paul and mary ‘wedding song’ into a profession song for vows)
i just dont think it is all so black and white and to think with the church is wider than a legalistic dimension…..



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Maureen O'Brien

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:16 pm


Lyrics: Kitchin, 1887.
Modifier of Lyrics: Newbolt, 1916.
Music: “Crucifer” — Nicholson, 1916.
Hope Publishing Company clearly did a new arrangement in the 70’s, copyrighted it, and is rakin’ in the cash money from that.
Public domain versions are the future, people!



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Pseudo-Thomas

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:18 pm


Ihidaya,
Did any of these saints advocate using such musical innovations during the Mass itself? I for one simply don’t know the history.
I don’t think anyone objects to religious music that borrows from the wider culture. This, after all, is part of the beauty of a sacramental view of reality. To find the gifts of God in all things, and incorporate them into a life filled with God’s Grace. That is a wonderful thing.
But sacred music is something different. That was my point, anyway.



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Maureen O'Brien

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:27 pm


Re: St. Francis
IIRC, the Canticle of the Sun _wasn’t a church song_. It was sung outside the context of Mass (literally). There were tons of songs sung in the churchyard, accompanying churchyard dancing (sacred carols), sung in processions, sung during daily life, or sung in the streets during church festivals.
But they weren’t all sung IN the church, or during Mass.



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:29 pm


Maureen…
Do you remember if the original text of “All Creatures of Our God and King” was a church song?
(Before it got copyrighted, of course). ;)



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Pseudo-Thomas

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:37 pm


Maureen,
Thanks for the added context.
Y’know, it kinda makes me think about that criticism of our culture, that we go to church to “consume religion” and the priest is the “dispender” who is to give us our fill. In a culture that operates in such terms, what need has one of religious-themed music *outside* Mass? It’s as if the distinction is ipso-facto obliterated.
To borrow a theme from St. de Montfort, I personally would LOVE to see a parish music director set up shop in an Irish pub and sing “Breathe” on a Friday evening.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 3:41 pm


“To borrow a theme from St. de Montfort, I personally would LOVE to see a parish music director set up shop in an Irish pub and sing “Breathe” on a Friday evening.”
Agreed.



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ihidaya

posted July 10, 2006 at 4:15 pm


The idea of singing hymns at Mass is a very recent one. Again, it was the liturgy that was sung at first by the whole congregation, then later by the choir and then as recited masses became the norm, it was recited by the priest and acolytes. but the more ancient tradition of singing the liturgy has been kept in the oriental churches. it was only in the last half of the 20th century that this idea came up that the laity were to sing four hymns at mass. it just isn’t that helpful to compare different centuries ….. the history is much more complicated. there is always a tension between high and low tastes. and it is not such a black and white distinction. Remember the Misa Luba? that is not sacred? have you heard the music from the Solemes Monastery in Africa? what is appropriate for a papal liturgy is not the same as an inner city mass with the missionaries of charity singing the hail mary after communion with the everyone to an old simon and garfunkel tune but it can be as sacred….IMHO



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Ryan

posted July 10, 2006 at 4:36 pm


This is one of my favorites. We also sing it during Mass. Outside of Mass I sing it sometimes just as a prayer or during Adoration, or in my car, on the way to the train…
Speaking of “erotic-worship music,” am I the only one who hears Van Morrison singing — not about a girl — but about God in his song, “Someone Like You”???
“I’ve been searching a long time for someone exactly like you.
I’ve been travelling all around the world waiting for you to come through.
Someone like you
to Make it all worthwhile.
Someone like you
To keep me satisfied.
Someone exactly like you…
I’ve been carrying a heavy load waiting for the light to come shining through…”



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 4:40 pm


Well,
Van Morrison does have a powerful religious song: “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?” which Phil Keaggy covered in Crimson and Blue.
And in “Have I Told You Lately” (later covered by Rod Stewart) there’s the famous line that “we should give thanks and pray to the One, to the One”.
So I don’t doubt that VM has some religous leanings. I wonder if these stemmed from his AA meetings?



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Pseudo-Thomas

posted July 10, 2006 at 4:45 pm


Ihidaya,
Interesting. I suppose we’re validating one another on some level. Yes, of course musical experimentation based on the themes of our Faith is a wonderful thing, but within the liturgy, a different precedence has unquestionably operated in the past. Musical experimentation in the Mass is a new phenomenon.
All the same, without making any commitments about where precisely to draw the line, I still contend that a line DOES EXIST between merely religious music and sacred music, and only the latter is appropriate for the liturgy.
A broader point may be that musical experimentation within the liturgy and liturgical experimentation in general (often illicit), at least at this point in history, often seem connected.
I guess my concern has less to do with music, or even with nit-pickiness about the GIRM. My concern is that our Faith is something handed on to us. It is something we receive from Christ through the ministry of His Church, sacramentally. The Church, throughout the ages, has received and passed on what was first received from Christ; namely Christ Himself, and faith in Him as our only redeemer.
I’m not one for a boring faith. I appreciate the saints who had imagination, and I think it speaks to the dynamism of a relationship with Christ that saints throughout history have allowed God to use them in unique and profound ways to reach His flock.
Is there a tension between these two aspects of our Faith? Our docility and receptivity, on the one hand, and our inventiveness and creativity on the other? How do they meet one another in the liturgy?
Within the Mass, I honestly and truly think we should adopt a spirit of conformity and respect – much as one would do at a friend’s wedding. Outside the Mass, a different spirit is in order. But, within the Mass, respecting our connection to the Church throughout the world and throughout time involves respecting the norms as they are given to us, and remembering that the celebration is, above all, SACRED.
On some level, this spirit should inform the musical choices we make within the liturgy. Perhaps we are now to sing four hyms within the Mass. But the pride of place for Gregorian Chant is right there in Sancrosanctum Concilium from Vatican II, and it is interesting how willingly some seem to ignore that point.
These are all general points. I’m still saying nothing about “Breathe” in particular, as I have never heard it. I am just raising questions about the appropriateness of musical experimentation in the liturgy. Is that actually what Sancrosanctum Concilium means when it discusses “active participation”? I have my personal doubts . . .



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Liam

posted July 10, 2006 at 5:04 pm


Although, in this day of copyright, it’s *illegal* to borrow melodies and texts under copyright without permission of the owner. That’s a modern development that ossifies the centuries-long tradition of borrowing freely in sacred music; it’s another reason why music in the public domain will likely retain a longer and more active life among church musicians. In the US, at least, everything before 1923 is public domain; for works from 1923, it depends on whether they had their copyrights renewed or automatically extended by statute in 1978 and later.
One nifty result is that the text of “How Can I Keep From Singing”, as modified in the 1950s, is all in the public domain (Enya defended and won that lawsuit over a decade ago); in my view, the original lyrics (and tune, which has an entirely different metrical feel from the modern copywritten tune) from the 19th century are far stronger and Christo-centric. A lot of folks are mining the 18th and 19th century American hymnals for tunes and lyrics; there’s a lot of good material to work with. That is genuine *folk* sacred music; the Sacred Harp tradition is also still a living tradition.
All quite different from the realm of music more inspired by industrial production of pop ballads, which often rely more on instrumentation (chords, bridges, refrains longer than verses to keep the climax moment ever-present, et cet.) that strong lyrics supported by sturdy melodies.
It’s not all subjective. There are poets and lyricists who know the technical craft of poetry (including iambs, trochees, spondees, dactyls, amphibrachs, et cet.) who can critique the quality of a lyric. (“Breathe” is not something I would hold my breath for getting high praise on this score, but then again there’s plenty of old favorites that would likewise come in for fire, too.) There are musicians schooled in music theory, composition, voice and orchestration who can offer professional critiques of the musical merit of a hymn tune, et cet.
There is also the consideration that liturgical music works best when it relies on natural acoustics and does not rely on amplification to make it work. (You can see hints of this in a variety of instructions about music that Rome has given over the years, including those strictly limiting recorded music to sparing use at children’s liturgies.)
It’s *not* simply a matter of taste. The Church’s invocation of quality, and its reference to chant and polyphony as touchstones, means that there inevitably will be skepticism about the quality of works inspired by the industrial pop idiom.
It may not seem fair or even-handed, but the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment is not in play in Catholic liturgical music.
The good news for those hoping for more latitude is that Catholic bishops in the US are notorious for being administrators rather than liturgists or musicians, and having a preference for pleasing people on musical matters because it’s one area where their discretion is harder to fight and so they can use it to win points on other things that they cannot budge on. (That’s not intended as a cynical comment, but a distillation of frequently-shared observations.)



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Nick

posted July 10, 2006 at 5:18 pm


“Although, in this day of copyright, it’s *illegal* to borrow melodies and texts under copyright without permission of the owner.”
There is an exception to the rule. If a song is a parody, that is, it’s a comedy song intended for sly commentary and satire, then it is rendered as “fair use.” Of which I have freely partaken in. (Click my name to hear some cool parody songs).
Of which, I would also agree that my parodies do not, will not, will never, should absolutely not ever, no never, be used in liturgy.
That said, I’m very disappointed in the circles this forum is going in. The mass is sacred. Agreed. Therefore one must be very cautious in using the most proper songs for the liturgy. Agreed. Songs which emanate from Sacred Tradition, but still allow room for creativity, artistry, and that are appropriate. Agreed. Songs that are not from the Christ of the Zietgeist, but the Christ of the Ages, universally admired, wholly reverent. Agreed.
And Still No Line Drawn.
Apparently, songs borrowed from popular worship songs of the eighteeth to nineteenth centuris are “appropriate” but popular worship songs of today are not. Should we expect “Breathe” to make The List one hundred years from now?
Until folks can translate the above from esoteric statements and bring it down so that the average Catholic suburban community can actively participate, this discussion is going in circles. Which is a problem. Because it’s very subjective. Who’s to say that a song is universally admired if it’s not? Who’s to say “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” can fit in today’s liturgy, if it’s written by [mock gasp] Luther?
Very odd debate, indeed.
Nick



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ihidaya

posted July 10, 2006 at 5:35 pm


Psuedo Thomas
Thank you for a good post, i appreciate your content and tone of respect and of listening to others on the thread.
I pretty much said all that I had to say on this topic. But my last cry is that we are not suppose to be signing 4 hymns at Mass…..we are suppose to sing the Mass. and probably in the long run some from of Chant is the best form for that. There is a french dominican who has composed some beautiful arrangements for a sung litugy and there is a CD of it in english, i just cant think of his name right now. but it gives a idea of what a liturgical celebration should be like.sacred music does not have to be High brow, it can be simple.
again i think the problem is that there is no place for religious music outside of Mass on a pratical level since people pretty much only go to church for mass. and then we have a culture that makes music more and more a passive thing we listen to on CD, Ipods etc…but not something that espreses a common life.this time of experimentation and even craziness may be hard to go through, but i think it will lead to some good things being created and some old things found anew. so it is not all in vain….
thank you for your post.



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Pseudo-Thomas

posted July 10, 2006 at 5:36 pm


Nick,
I agree the debate is odd, and that a clear line would be preferable. But I also think Sancrosanctum Concilium doesn’t give that clear line, and the ambiguities inherent in merely giving Gregorian Chant a “pride of place” has lead to just the sort of navel-gazing and inconsistencies you’re witnessing.
[As a side note, it is interesting to think of a point, decide it is too esoteric to make, and then watch a discussion prove the point anyway.]
In other words, I think our unwillingness to draw a clear line in this discussion merely mimics the lack of a clear line drawn in the operative text from Vatican II itself.
Ambiguities in Vatican II documents is another discussion, however.



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Liam

posted July 10, 2006 at 5:56 pm


“Apparently, songs borrowed from popular worship songs of the eighteeth to nineteenth centuris are “appropriate” but popular worship songs of today are not. Should we expect “Breathe” to make The List one hundred years from now?”
Actually, there are plenty of worship songs from older times that don’t make the cut either; it’s just that the culling has largely been completed for thost time periods. The penny presses of the 19th century produced an avalanche of wretched hymnody in the industrialized English-speaking world. What remains, and what is used regularly in Catholic worship, is a relatively small percentage of what was produced. The culling of present-day works always seems more fraught and subjective in the moment, but it’s happening. I’ve already seen Catholic parishes that got a boost from P&W music move on as the idiom could not sustain liturgy at the level the grown community needed. Does that mean that every P&W chorus will fade into obscurity? No. Just that the idiom seems to have short legs in Catholic worship (which it is not really built for) and what will be culled and kept will at best be a small percentage (that’s the best you can hope for for even more traditional idioms, after all).
“Until folks can translate the above from esoteric statements and bring it down so that the average Catholic suburban community can actively participate, this discussion is going in circles. Which is a problem. Because it’s very subjective. Who’s to say that a song is universally admired if it’s not? Who’s to say “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” can fit in today’s liturgy, if it’s written by [mock gasp] Luther?” ”
Actually, I pointed out how it’s not all subjective; criticism of hymns from a professional level of poetry and music will happen over time as musicians encounter music and decide to try it out and them see how it works. Over. Time. Much will be weeded out by trial and error, and some good and bad will survive. (This is reflected in the more traditional music we have; for example, many musicians find what passes for congregational arrangments of “Silent Night” in America (as opposed to the somewhat hokey but Laendler-like guitar arrangement of “Stille Nacht”) to be pretty tough to take each Christmas. That goes twice for the wretched English paraphrase of Cantique de Noel (“O Holy Night”) — the French original text much more of a theological argument than the treacly English paraphrase.)
OH! I remember to this day the first time I got to sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in Mass. Circa 1970, when the barriers against Lutheran hymns seemed to come crashing down. My father, raised in a German national parish that sang its lungs out, was so happy to finally get to sing that one; he felt that Catholics had gotten the raw end of the stick in this regard. I can remember his beaming reaction to this day. As for me, there are Lutheran tunes I like, but the complex meters of a lot of Lutheran tunes make for awkward scanning in English, whereas some of the Genevan Psalter tunes seem to find a happier fit.
Finally, as I also note, hymns are the lowest order of liturgical music. If you are singing hymns and not singing the ordinary and the psalm, then musical priorities are skewed. Singing an opening hymn and speaking the Gloria? It’s permitted, but it’s not commended at all, e.g..



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Liam

posted July 10, 2006 at 6:18 pm


It occurs to me to mention that there are professional principles in the writing of metrical music in the Western tradition. If you want to see the foundations of it, check out works on species counterpoint, which was a method of teaching the crafting of melodies and counterpoint for centuries and that is still taught in many music theory courses to this day. And you’d get graded on your ability to work with those principles. The principles not only are high-concept in terms of beauty, but also distill practical hard lessons learned over centuries of singers having to work through unintended problems in musical compositions.
And those principles continue to influence professional assessments of quality in melody and harmony and lyric.
For a polyphonic embodiment of perfection of this, a shortish example would be “Sicut Cervus” by Palestrina, often cited as the finest single work of vocal harmony in the canon, as it were. It’s short, but the melodic lines and relationship to the text have been inpsiring and teaching myriad composers for a half-millennium.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 6:40 pm


Liam,
Wow…you have a rare ability to cut to the heart of the issue, inform it with pertinent historical perspective, and balanced theology. Very well said.
Palestrina’s “Pope Marcellus Mass” is categorically superb. I will say that contemporary composers such as Proulx and Rutter show some great promise in polyphony as well.
Your assessment of P&W is quite astute. I do think there is more “wheat” in this genre than we are sometimes willing to give credit for, but all too much “chaff” as well.
Wow again. Thanks for wrapping that up in a bow.



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john

posted July 10, 2006 at 6:44 pm


PT,
I also think your thoughts on the ambiguities of the Council were also quite well put. I think this is what I was trying to get at in some of my previous posts, but could not put quite as succinctly and eloquently.



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Maureen

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:29 pm


Forgot to mention:
It’s a well-known fact (well, my mom knew it) from the old days that not all classical Ave Maria settings are permitted to be sung during Mass. Even the okey-doke ones (like Schubert — and only the Latin words, mind you!) are strictly restricted to the prelude/postlude/interlude spots; they may not be sung as hymns. I believe this is true of many “operatic” hymn settings.
So it’s not like new music is being persecuted.



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Rusty

posted July 11, 2006 at 12:09 am


Todd:
“A solo crooner would make a lot of people nervous who might already be nervous about their sexuality or sexual expression in church.”
I think you’ve put your finger on it. “Sexual expression” which is inherently individual is inappropriate at Mass. That you would think to say this in connection with “Breathe” would automatically exclude it from consideration at Mass; it is more self-expression than worship and praise.
Saying someone is “nervous about their sexuality” when he objects to something patently and offensively private in a public setting is how so many debasements were insinuated into our behavior and attitudes, generally, in society; but it isn’t ME or MY sexuality that is feeling like it must be proclaimed at a sacred worship service. It is more likely that of the director of worship. And you know what? I don’t ever want to know.



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JC

posted July 11, 2006 at 2:34 am


Lawrence King,
Thanks for your clarification on the originality of the “Christian” (actually Pauline) meaning of Agape. This is what I’ve never understood when I hear people expounding on the Greek meanings of John 21.
Jesus wants us to die for Him.
Agape is not a self-sacrificing love. It’s a love of worship and adoration. You have Agape for a teacher or a painting.
Philos is the love of brothers and soldiers. Brothers and Soldiers die for each other. Jesus calls the Apostles “Brothers.”
Jesus is saying, “Hey, Pete. These guys all just think of me as this great teacher and even as God. Do you love me more than they do?”
Pete says, “Yeah, Jesus. You’re my bro.”
Jesus says, “Peter, do you worship me?”
Pete says, “Yeah, Jesus. I love you like my brother.”
Jesus says, “Peter–do you love me like a brother?”
Peter says, “Of course! You know that! I’ve said it three times now!”
Jesus says, “Great. Brothers die for each other. I died for you. Now you need to die for Me.”



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Mary Kay

posted July 11, 2006 at 12:29 pm


Seconding Rusty’s post and clapping loudly.



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Muriel

posted August 11, 2006 at 11:42 am


What creeped you out was the application of fleshy music for what should have been worship of the Crucified Lamb. This type of music IS creepy for mass. The fear of the Lord, (one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit) is missing. People who tune into it end up wallowing in their SENSES –> fanning the flame on the Altar of Man.



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Muriel

posted August 11, 2006 at 11:48 am


What creeped you out was the application of fleshy music for what should have been worship of the Crucified Lamb. This type of music IS creepy for mass. The fear of the Lord, (one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit) is missing. People who tune into it end up wallowing in their SENSES –> fanning the flame on the Altar of Man.



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Hollie Butler

posted February 26, 2007 at 3:43 pm


Our praise is personal! We come together with our BEST sacrifice of praise and that means we surrender all our flesh and just love on the Lord with every fiber of our being. He is the “Lover of Our Soul” after all. Try lavishing all your praise on Him in private and then you’ll be so in love with the Lord you will abandon your insercurities and praise Him fully. It will take you to a higher place in your relationship with Him. God bless you!



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erashadarve

posted August 6, 2007 at 6:07 pm


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and so, that I parted with very good a man, Mandy- Sandie Alexanderon, and now try to find him, last that I know so it that he lives in citi, and often vi
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FreeStoring

posted December 11, 2007 at 3:05 pm


hay!!
good project :)
senks :)



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